Remembering the Ontario Legislative Building: April 4: Snapshots in History
The Ontario Legislative Building that adorns Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto at the present time was officially opened on April 4, 1893 (after six years of construction from 1886 to 1892) in an incomplete state by the then-Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, George Airey Kirkpatrick. The building was designed by British-American architect Richard A. Waite in a Richardsonian Romanesque style that included characteristics from northern Italian structures including detailed carvings, domed towers, rounded archways, and heavy stonework. The exterior walls were constructed on pink sandstone quarried near Orangeville, Ontario in the Credit River Valley. Copper covered the roof domes and slate from Vermont was used for the roof.
Interior features included cast iron columns and detailing, oak floors and panels, and inner walls made from over 10 million bricks. Mahogany and sycamore-based wood carvings lined the legislative chamber itself. Artist Gustav Hahn painted the ceiling and walls with murals.
The legislative chamber is located in the centre block of the building. Contrast the oak floors and cast iron columns in the east wing section with the Italian marble in the west wing of the building. The fire of September 1, 1909 resulting from a spark from a charcoal burner used in roof repairs destroyed the west wing of the Legislative Building. Toronto architect Edward James Lennox (designer of Old City Hall, King Edward Hotel, and Casa Loma) was hired to re-design the west wing. While staying true to Waite’s exterior style, Lennox introduced Italian marble, added a stained glass feature with the Ontario Coat of Arms as well as an additional storey and two floors which provided the building with an asymmetrical look but additional office space.
A north wing was also added to the Ontario Legislative Building (at the same time as the west wing rebuild), designed by Toronto architect George Wallace Gouinlock. The work on the north wing was completed in 1913 using sandstone from Sackville, New Brunswick (as E.J. Lennox did for the west wing rebuild). The north wing houses the current Legislative Library, used by Members of Provincial Parliament and their staff for research purposes. (The original legislative library had been destroyed in the 1909 west wing fire.)
How did the newspapers of that time capture this moment? The April 4, 1893 issue of the Globe newspaper carried the article entitled “Opening of the Legislature: Final Arrangements Completed for Today’s Ceremonies: Programme for the Afternoon” on page 8. Here is an excerpt from that article;
“Easter Monday was not observed in any sense as a holiday by the scores of workmen engaged in completing arrangements in the new parliament buildings for the opening ceremonies to-day. During the forenoon the contractors’ men held sway in all parts of the edifice, but most of these ceased work at noon…Details for the arrangements for to-day’s proceedings have already been fully published…Admission to the floor of the house or to any of the galleries during the official opening proceedings will be by ticket only…At 5 o’clock Sir Oliver Mowat, the attorney-general, will be presented with an oil painting of himself from the brush of Mr. Harris of Montreal…”
On the following day, the Globe newspaper in its April 5, 1893 issue on pages 1 and 4 carried the following article entitled “Ontario’s Parliament: The Legislature Gathers at the New Buildings: Immense Throngs: The Park Crowded All Afternoon: Address from the Throne: A Great Reception in the Chamber: Several Hundred Citizens Pay Their Respects – A Presentation to Sir Oliver”. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“The opening of the legislature and the new parliament buildings yesterday was a notable occasion. The completion of the building marks an epoch in the history of the province; the session upon which the legislature is entering in the twenty-third of Sir Oliver Mowat’s premiership, and it was the first time lieutenant-Governor Kirkpatrick has officiated at the ceremonies…There was a crush of people in the corridors and on the broad staircases outside the chamber long before the time of the opening of the doors…The leader of the opposition looked strong and well…The premier made the time-honoured motion for the first reading of the bill for the administration of oaths of office, by which session after session, the right of the legislature to deal with matters not mentioned in the speech from the throne is asserted…”
The Ontario Legislative Building is the seventh such building to have served as Ontario’s parliament building with the first being located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, while the Palace of Parliament at the intersection of Front and Parliament streets in then-York was destroyed on April 27, 1813 during the War of 1812.
Please enjoy several of the following images from the Toronto Reference Library’s Baldwin Collection:
Parliament Buildings (1893); Toronto Telegram; Picture, 1950; Rights and Licenses: Public Domain; Medium: Photograph. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection; Call Number / Accession Number: 960-10-1 Cab 1)
Parliament Buildings (1893); fire, 1 September 1909; Medium: Silver gelatin print on postcard; Rights and Licenses: Public Domain. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection; Call Number / Accession Number: X 64-385).
Macdonald, Sir John A., monument, Queen’s Park, in front of Parliament Buildings; Underwood & Underwood; Picture, 1903; Rights and Licenses: Public Domain; Medium: Stereo; Printed text on mount. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection; Call Number / Accession Number: Y 28)
Parliament Buildings (1893); Underwood & Underwood; Picture, 1900; Notes: Show Northwest Rebellion Monument; Rights and Licenses: Public Domain; Medium: Stereo. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection; Call Number/Accession Number: Y 30)
Parliament Buildings (1893); Interior, corridor, 3rd floor, looking east?. Attributed to George R. Lancefield. Picture, 1893. Medium: Photograph; Rights and Licenses: Public Domain. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection; Call Number/Accession Number: S 38-11).
Consider the following titles for borrowing and exploration from Toronto Public Library collections:
eBook, 1893 – Also available on Archive.org.